LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- Former Gov. Orval Faubus was sworn in Monday to a new state job with only vague references to his decision 24 years ago calling out the National Guard to keep blacks out of Central High School.
Although a lifelong Democrat, Faubus, 71, was appointed state veterans affairs director by Republican Gov. Frank White as thanks for helping behind the scenes in White's campaign last year. The appointment in early August provoked a brief outcry from blacks and some Republicans.
Faubus looked tired and repeated the oath of office in a faint, raspy voice. But he perked up later at an impromptu news conference and said his health was 'good enough to disappoint some of my critics.'
Faubus was unperturbed when a black activist who had threatened to disrupt the ceremony stood up shouting, 'Let's pray for this sick state!'
Robert 'Say' McIntosh, 36, was wrestled out of the room by two security officers and three state troopers. McIntosh, arrested at the Capitol last month in another one-man demonstration against Faubus, was charged with disorderly conduct and obstructing government operations.
Faubus noted it was not the first demonstration he had seen in Arkansas.
'I will not be deterred too much by verbal tempests swirling about our state,' he said.
It had been 24 years to the day since Faubus met with President Eisenhower to explain his decision to prevent court-ordered desegregation. Eisenhower later sent in the Army to make sure nine black teenagers could attend school safely.
But Faubus would not talk about it and laughingly told a reporter, 'If you want to know about my conference with Eisenhower, I'll sell you one of my books.'
White, too, referred to 1957 only obliquely.
'There's been a lot of conversation regarding this appointment,' he said. 'Whatever people want to attest to Orval Faubus for, I think you have to look at a record no other man can match in Arkansas in tenure.'
Faubus served as governor from 1954 to 1966 -- an unprecedented six terms -- and White said Faubus had improved the state's education and economic development. He also said Faubus is an able administrator and a friend of veterans, having served 300 days in combat in World War II.
Faubus had mentioned running against White for governor next year, but he said that is 'a lot less likely' with this appointment.
'Maintaining the super caution I have always exercised, I'm keeping my options open,' he said.